His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
- So, we've gone from yellow feet to someone's soul.
- Whose, you ask? Perhaps it belongs to some man from the street, where we again find ourselves. This soul is both in the sky, which is fading, and under the feet of the people, who are trampling all over it.
- Either way, the fellow's soul is being diminished and ignored. Everyone is just too busy to notice it (sad).
- He tries to get us to slow down and notice it, though (the bossy guy); there are two end stops in these lines to get that idea across.
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
- Again, we get more unpleasant imagery. These three lines focus in on particular body parts of the people in the city: the fingers (stuffing a pipe) and the eyes (which seem assured of "certain certainties").
- So what could these people be assured of? Consider what is pretty certain in day-to-day life: day, night, bills, work, hunger, pipe-smoking—all the basics. Whatever the daily certainties of life are, Eliot is not painting them in the most flattering light.
- And the newspapers are back, too. With this repeated symbol, Eliot is reminding us of the grime that we can't seem to escape. We aren't just observing the people and their habits, though; we're watching someone's soul. It floats around all these people, and yet they still ignore it.
- Could this soul represent everyone's souls, which exist outside of the hum-drum of daily life? Let's read on to see...
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
- Here, he tells us that the soul is the street's conscience. Because it's fading, like the sky, or being trampled underneath people's feet, it's not something that most people bother with.
- Our conscience isn't so easily put off, though; it wants to join the world. Eliot even calls it "impatient."
- So why don't we see our conscience, if it's there impatiently waiting for us? Do the daily, grimy facts of life (like newspapers and buildings) prevent us from really seeing it?
- Deep stuff—Eliot definitely wants us to consider these big questions. He even uses an end stop after "world" to encourage us to take a break and contemplate before we move on to the next image.
- Contemplation over? Okay great—now we can move on.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
- We see a change in perspective here. Now, we get the speaker himself (or herself) in the first person. Suddenly, our speaker is involved, instead of just narrating from afar.
- The speaker sees a more hopeful world, one where something "infinitely gentle" floats around dreary images.
- But "thing" is not exactly the most specific word. Is he keeping it kind of vague on purpose? Are we supposed to guess what this "thing" is, or is it something (like the soul) that can't really be pinned down? Whatever these vague "fancies" might be, they don't give up. They're eternal.
- This moves the speaker, perhaps enough to make him or her use first-person perspective for the first time in the poem.
- But is our speaker moved in a positive, hopeful way, or is he or she still totally bummed out? Let's read on to the finale.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
- With this strange, compelling final image, Eliot's speaker reminds us that the world "revolves"; history repeats itself. There'll always be women gathering fuel in dismal, "vacant lots."
- Remember what he said earlier about time having no meaning, since we are always doing the same things? He's echoing that here.
- Basically, human life will always involve dreary, monotonous situations, like the ones we've seen in the poem.
- It's hard out there—especially for women. It's interesting that both here, and in stanza 2, the speaker specifically indicates that women struggle. In any case, it's not a super-hopeful thought…
- Though, on the plus side, he does tell us to buck up and laugh. The command to wipe our mouth seems to indicate some kind of preparation. It's as though we're being told prepare our face (clean all the tears and spit and cookie crumbs off) to face reality with a chuckle. Of course, whether it's a bitter laugh or a joyful one is… well, up for debate.